I doubt anybody grows up wanting to be a garbage man. Or an accountant. Or a medical billing coder.
There might be a few. Maybe some kids thought riding on a garbage truck was the coolest thing they had ever seen. Maybe some math-obsessed kids thought it would be amazing to spend all day running numbers through spreadsheets.
When we were kids, most of us had things we thought we wanted to do when we grew up, even if many of those things were impractical. When I was very young, I wanted to be captain of a starship, just like my only hero, Capt. James T. Kirk. In an era of frequent rocket launches and trips to the moon, it seemed possible to me.
Then I wanted to be an engineer and inventor. I’ve told you about these before. I progressed through law and ministry and several other things. I was certain that I would one day be president of the United States. I was incredibly excited about my future. I wanted to do and be everything. I was going to change the world.
Some of my dreams were unrealistic, but they all shared one thing. They were choices that had to do with things which my heart longed to do. But somewhere along the way, I started doing what people were willing to pay me to do instead. I lost track of what made my heart happy. At some point, I gave up and started trying to fit into molds made by other people.
At every major change in my working life, I can point to someone who recruited me for something. I never asked for a job in newspapers. I was approached and offered a job. Even after working part-time for a newspaper in college, I didn’t intend to do it for long, but someone recruited me to be managing editor of another small newspaper. That led to another job at a daily, which led to being managing editor at that daily.
I never intended to be a political consultant. I just managed one campaign for a friend and then other people started asking to hire me. Soon, I was making too much to walk away. Even with the real estate work I’m doing today, a long-time friend recruited me to help fix some problems with his new company and he encouraged me to get my license.
In some respects — most respects, if I’m honest — I’ve taken the path of least resistance rather than charted the course I wanted.
Yes, I can point to moments of initiative. I started a couple of small newspapers with little other than some news expertise and youthful arrogance. I had other plans on the drawing board that I had to give up when my father’s embezzling issues came out and killed my company.
But for the most part, I can draw a bright line between the time when I was actively planning what I wanted to do — making concrete plans to do specific things — and the time when I started simply accepting the opportunities that fell into my lap.
At some point, I quit trying to be myself. I allowed my need for money to turn me into a prostitute who did things I didn’t enjoy doing, things which what other people wanted done.
A few nights ago, a friend sent me a short animated film called “Happiness.” The director says it’s, “The story of a rodent’s unrelenting quest for happiness and fulfillment.” But I like to think it’s a story that most of us share — about how we get distracted by the pursuit of things we think we want, until we find ourselves somewhere we never intended to be. (I’ve embedded it below. It’s only about four minutes. I hope you’ll watch.)
As I thought about the story of the rat, it reminded me of one of my favorite short films, a six-minute animation called “More.” (I’ll embed it underneath the first short.) It’s about someone who reminds me a lot of myself. This character starts out with fire in his belly. He’s driven and wants to make something of himself, but he gets frustrated until he finds what he thinks is his opportunity. It makes him wildly successful, but he discovers that the fire which drove him has gone out — and all he still cares about is something of a surprise, maybe even to him. (I also think the music in this short is wonderful.)
Let me be really clear and honest. Life is easier after you give up and conform.
The world is far tougher on someone who’s trying to make his way on his own terms. You’re a lot more popular when you’ll choose a job from the choices someone else is offering you. You’ll be rewarded for going along with other people’s plans.
If you’re one of those who chooses from the available jobs — and if you happen to want to fit into one of those slots — that’s your business. We need people in this world to do all sorts of jobs which I would never be able to do — which I would never be satisfied doing.
But if you’re anything like me, you might be stuck at trying to reinvent yourself — at trying to figure out how to get the world to pay you to do the things you desperately need to do.
I know how to get the world to pay me to write what the people already want to read, but those things are not worth writing. I need to say things which most people don’t yet know they need to hear. I have a burning desire to help people discover new ways of living — ways that will require them to question what they’ve been taught and discover who they really are.
Nobody is begging for the art I need to make. Nobody is begging for the videos I’m going to make soon. Nobody is begging for what I write here. Nobody is begging for the books I will write. Nobody is begging for the films I will make. But I have faith that they will find a home and that people will pay me enough to make a good living by telling the truth as I see it.
During my best political years, I was making $150,000 a year, but I paid far too high an emotional and ethical price for that. I had to wander in the wilderness for a number of years after I left politics. I’m not back to where I used to be financially, but at least I’m stable.
I don’t know how long it will be, but I have faith that I’ll eventually do better financially doing what’s right for me than I ever did when I was doing what was wrong for me. Then the years of struggling will all have been worth it. And then nobody will be able to say that I gave up.
Note: This is indirectly related to something I wrote about a year ago called “Who were you before someone told you who you were supposed to be?“